We know of television content having being transmitted to our television sets through antennas, and then through cable and set-top boxes. The spread of the internet and the increasing bandwidth it is offering now have given rise to the efforts of using the internet to transmit television and video content directly to televisions. These transmissions would need the user to own a Smart TV, and subscribers have been lapping up Streaming TV over the last few years.
How and When Amazon Fire TV Started Off – a Short Introduction
One of the most popular providers of Streaming TV is Amazon, which started off with Amazon Video in 2006 (a year after the popular video sharing website YouTube was launched). At this point, Amazon named its product as Unbox in the United States of America. Almost a decade later (in 2014), it launched its digital media player Amazon Fire TV worldwide.
Streaming TV services like Amazon Fire TV
Amazon Fire TV is not the only one in this arena. We bring you all the details of some other good services in this genre. Let’s check them out:
1. Chromecast 2nd Generation
There is no denying the appeal of Chromecast. Since its arrival in 2013, Chromecast has captivated the audience through its sheer simplicity. Chromecast 2 was an improvement, by all accounts. Today, 3 years after its launch, Chromecast 2 still remains one of our favorites for streaming stuff on the TV.
• Fast Play: Google solved one of the biggest reasons behind user disengagement i.e. buffering. While buffering is largely dependent on the user’s internet connection, Chromecast 2 ensures that the ire doesn’t fall on it. The “Fast Play” feature starts buffering the content that is next on your watch list. This means that the next episode you are going to watch is getting buffered while you watch the current one.
• Gaming: One of the issues with the original Chromecast was the lack of any games for passing the time when nothing is being streamed. Casting games on the big screen wasn’t exactly a fun due to the lag. But this was solved in Chromecast 2 with multiplayer games that effectively use the TV as the screen and the mobile phones as the consoles. It’s an old concept, but Google was quite wise to use it here.
• Updated App: A major disappointment since the release of Chromecast in 2013 was the Chromecast app. For a device that aimed to provide cutting-edge entertainment, the app was really a drag. But we have come a long way since then, and the Chromecast app today is awesome. From better UI to useful features like compatible app suggestions, the updated app is really a feature on its own.
People expecting Google to introduce 4K support in Chromecast would be disappointed as the giant reserved that feature for the Chromecast Ultra.
There is no remote control provided with the device, which could be a major turn off to many people.
There is simply no other way to say that Google Chromecast 2 is amazing. The flaws are trivial when compared to the enormous features. The sleek design is a major improvement over the previous version of the series. Many new features were intrigued that makes it an appealing choice for people just venturing into the world of TV streaming. Despite all this, the price of Chromecast 2 is the same as Chromecast and fall in the lower end of the market. It is a must-have for beginners.
2. Apple TV
Like most other technologies, Apple ventured into digital media player before it was cool. In 2007, the first Apple TV device was launched and introduced the world to the possibility of TV streaming. More than a decade later, Apple TV still stands strong in this sector. While the latest offering was the Apple TV 4K, we are sticking here with its previous version: the 4ht Gen Apple TV (you will know why). Let’s take a look at this product from the iconic company.
• Bring Out the Gamer: Apple wasn’t going to let their users be bored when not streaming. The device allows you to convert your phones into consoles and play games on the big screen. Third-party MFi controllers are also compatible, so you can bring the Nintendo Wii nostalgia back.
• Tailor-Made for the Apple Users: If you are a big Apple fan and own either or all Apple devices like iPad, iPhone or Mac OS, the Apple TV would be a great addition to the entire Apple ecosystem. The AirPlay feature allows you to mirror your iPhone/iPad just like Android casting.
• Vast App Library: From the entertainment perspective, this is pure gold. The Apple TV OS supports a huge library of apps, ranging over multiple genres. With the power of App Store, you can have unlimited entertainment on your TV. The support for third-party apps just makes things sweeter.
• New App: Apple is notorious for discontinuing support for previous versions once the latest version hits the market. Something similar was expected with the launch of Apple.
• Cost: In comparison to the features available in other streaming TV services, the cost of Apple TV is a bit high.
• Remote: Remote is not added as a part of the package. So, you will need to buy it separately.
• Once again, Apple shows little regard for users who are not loyal customers of the brand. To get the full experience of Apple TV like apps and mirroring, you need an Apple ecosystem or at least an iPhone at the bare minimum.
Many gadget geeks feel that the world has just two kinds of people – the ones who swear by Apple, and the rest. If you belong to the former category, then you will love this product. The huge library of content, the nod towards gaming, and the obvious quality of Apple hardware and software makes Apple TV a great product.
3. Nvidia Shield TV
This Android-based streaming system has been around since 2015. Although it carries 4K capability, the primary focus seems to be on the gamers. There is no doubt that the gaming features we see on the current version are vastly improved and is way ahead of the competition. But let us read on to see if the other features are also as impressive.
• Distinct Styling: The Shield is very stylishly designed, and it gives your living room a smart look. The lines of Shield TV are not exactly rectangular. The set’s top has a triangular shape and is fitted with the power light. You will see trapezoids on both sides as well as the back. Only the front and right panels are in the traditional rectangular shape. Normally, you would set it flat on a desk or table, but in case you want to enjoy its vertical looks, you can add on a vertical stand.
• Gaming: For serious gamers, the Nvidia Shield TV is a boon. The game controller has a sleek design to die for, incorporating many new changes while keeping the best of the earlier versions. It also is voice instruction enabled. The strong mic ensures that you can sit back and speak to the controller kept on a table in front of you.
• Remote: You get the remote control as a part of the package, unlike the earlier version where you needed to purchase the remote separately. The remote that is compatible with the device is equipped with a tiny mic into which you can speak to for running a voice search. The remote is slightly longer than 5 inches. The design is unchanged from the earlier remote – the four directions marked on a circular pad, along with a Back button and a Home button.
• Bandwidth: Shield TV is built to carry 4K content, and it looks to be one of the most powerful streaming TV services in the 4K segment. It can support video streaming sent from mobile devices. The 4K bandwidth also allows you to get the most detailed gaming functions in the same class.
• Voice: Shield TV comes with voice-enabled Google Assistant as a part of the system, which can be used hands-free. This allows you to use the Shield TV just like Google Home. What’s more, the replies from Google Assistant will be audible to you and also be displayed on the screen as text and graphics. You can directly instruct Shield TV to open a particular app by using the Google Assistant.
• Memory: After the Android and the other local apps have been factory installed, you might find the remaining free memory a little insufficient. The good thing is that it works very well with most of the external drives available on the market.
• Cost: You might find a few other devices which seem to promise more or less similar features at the same price. But with Shield, you have the assurance of a trusted brand.
There might be some other devices which will stream content equally efficiently at a lesser price. But when you consider the gaming experience offered by Nvidia, then it shoots ahead of all the competitors. Additionally, the presence of Google Assistant makes this a great buy even at its cost.
4. Roku Ultra
This is (so far) the most high-end offering from the house of Roku, and it is borne out by the price tag. We will look at the features which contribute to this price, but there is a more cost-effective alternative – the Streaming Stick +. The Ultra supports 4K and also HDR, and you will love its feature-packed body.
• Remote: The remote will remind you of the erstwhile TV remotes, with a number of buttons of different sizes and colors. A good thing I liked is the dedicated single-touch buttons for some of the more popular apps like Hulu, Netflix, HBO Now, etc. This remote can also be used as a gamepad because of its motion sensors. But this is possible only for a few of the games in the Roku Channel Store, not all. Finally, it carries a very useful headphone jack, which can allow you to watch content without disturbing anyone.
• Streaming Quality: The Roku Ultra supports 4K streaming and this enhanced video output makes it popular with the users. It also supports one (HDR10) of the two streaming standards for high dynamic range, but it doesn’t support Dolby. The 4K picture quality is as crisp and clear as you would expect, and the Ultra also allows real-time responses to buttons. You can quickly navigate the menu options, and the different apps do not take forever to load.
• Roku Channel Store: This feature is really one of the pros of this device. You name any app or channel, and you will find it at the Roku Channel Store. If you are an Apple user, though, one service you might miss is iTunes, because that is available only on Apple TV. Otherwise, you can find everything related to sports, news, technology and all other segments.
• Other accessories: At the price you are paying, the Roku Ultra doesn’t only give you great content at awesome speeds, but it also provides several accessories for which you would have to pay if you used other service providers or products. You get USB and Ethernet ports as well as an HDMI port. The remote has a great feature which enables it to let off a beep sound when a small button on the top panel is pressed. Goodbye to the frantic searching for the remote!!
• Dolby: This is one missing feature that allows a few competitors to go ahead. Roku only works with HDR10. The only redeeming point here is that many channels do not use Dolby, so for them, HDR10 is just fine.
• Cost: At first glance, the higher absolute price tag might sound like a drawback. But as detailed above, the Roku Ultra offers many useful features and accessories which would have cost money otherwise.
At its price, the Roku Ultra is a much better version than the earlier offerings from Roku. Also, the quality of content and the useful remote makes it just perfect for enjoying streaming TV content. We would be happy to recommend the Roku Ultra.
As we said earlier, the Streaming TV market is all set to see the introduction of newer players soon. When you need to make a choice, start off by first selecting the platform that suits your preferences. Within that platform, compare the features and specifications of different offerings. Then comes the cost of the streaming TV service, which is always an important factor. Once you have made an assessment of specs versus cost, you are ready to get your baby home!